Dorian Gray is an exciting new theatre adaption of Oscar Wilde’s classic decadent and aesthetic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The play was set in the Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema; an appropriate setting which enables discussion of ‘making pictures’, drives the egotism of the title rolled character, and gives the characters a very real sense of literally ‘acting’ their double lives. Dorian is a fabulous if narcissistic movie-star, Harry becomes a blasé studio executive, and Basil is a passionate director, who makes a picture starring Dorian rather than painting his portrait. The performance was certainly short, lasting less than an hour, but the intensity of the emotions the actors portrayed as they struggled to influence Dorian, and he struggled to control himself, made this character study an interesting, immersive and emotional roller-coaster for the audience.The venue itself was certainly part of the appeal of the performance, and the intimate theatre in The Old Joint Stock made the audience feel involved from the beginning. On entry, the audience is lead past a dressing-room in which Dorian (Joel Heritage) is admiring himself using multiple mirrors, and then through the backstage of a Hollywood film set, before they find themselves sat around the studio itself. The use of a plain white backdrop and projectors, whilst maintaining the setting of the performance, also cast dramatic shadows as the actors perform, which very literally emphasises Dorian’s ‘shady’ double life. Additionally, whenever Dorian is engaged in doing something his former naturalistic self would disapprove of, a voice-over (Touwa Craig-Dunn) speaks his words for him, while the eerie sound effect of a ‘ringing’ wine glass is repeated. This creates a very trippy effect for the audience, making the ‘real’ idealistic Dorian seem far removed from what this actor is doing onstage.
For me, the most interesting change to this play was the concept of what was depicted as mysterious, and to what extent. In the original novel, Wilde is very unclear about exactly what Dorian’s secretive night-time activities involve, however this performance shows Dorian take drugs and drink excessively, surrounded by the meaningless chatter of faceless offstage companions. Wilde’s personal homosexuality has often led his character Dorian to be considered a potentially secretly practising homosexual, a viewpoint which is strongly suggested by the production’s handout. However, while Basil Hallward (Adam Carver) is clearly infatuated with the movie star Dorian, the character himself never engages in anything definitively sexually ‘deviant’, and his sexuality is left up to the interpretation of the audience. Additionally, while much of the novel focuses on the picture itself, examining it in long, aesthetic passages of description, the audience is never shown any film footage. They are left to imagine what this footage would be like, and only have the reactions of Dorian and Basil on which to base their speculations.
In shortening the performance, there was more of a focus on Dorian himself, and Basil’s reactions to him, rather than exploring his relationships with the other characters, in particular with those of Harry Wotton (Jack Robertson) and Sibyl Vane (Grace Hussey-Burd). As Dorian was seen as egotistic from the beginning of the production, Harry’s influence over him was diminished. Likewise, in the play Dorian had no interest in Sibyl as an artist, and so his sudden disinterest in her cannot be explained by a sudden waning of her artistic talent, and may instead need to be explained by the character’s secret homosexual passions. The play’s conclusion was a spell-binding performance by Joel Heritage, who perfectly captured the unbearable pain and torment of electro-shock therapy, before destroying himself and his infamous ‘picture’.
Overall, the production was riveting from start to finish, engaging with this classic text in way that was alternative, well thought-out and stylishly executed. I certainly look forward to seeing any upcoming productions by ‘The Tin Robert Theatre’ in the future.
This review was originally published on the Redbrick News website, 23rd April 2016.